FORT MEADE, Md. -- The sentencing phase of Bradley Manning's trial took an intense, ripped-from-the-headlines turn Monday as a top State Department official denied that he had squelched an investigation into allegations that the U.S. ambassador to Belgium solicited sex from prostitutes and minors.

The day began in a friendly fashion. Under questioning from military prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein, Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy testified in a bureaucratic monotone that Manning's bulk release of diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks had "a chilling effect that will go on for some time" on foreign officials' willingness to speak candidly to U.S. diplomats.

"People have long memories," said Kennedy, who led the department's crisis-mode reaction to WikiLeaks' release of diplomatic cables in 2010.

The tenor of Kennedy's testimony changed when defense attorney David Coombs stood up for cross-examination.

Manning was convicted on 19 counts last week for giving reams of sensitive government documents to WikiLeaks. Whether his leaks caused any serious harm has emerged as a central point of contention during the sentencing phase of his trial.

Standing before a courtroom of Manning supporters wearing t-shirts emblazoned "truth," Coombs reminded Kennedy -- a high-ranking career State Department employee who has wielded power within the inner sanctum of Foggy Bottom under presidents Democratic and Republican -- that he was under oath. Then Coombs peppered Kennedy with blunt questions about the government's assessments of the damage WikiLeaks had done and whether Kennedy could be trusted.

Coombs brought up in particular an anonymously sourced report from Reuters in January 2011 that unnamed State Department officials had told Congress that WikiLeaks' release of thousands of diplomatic cables was "embarrassing but not damaging." The Reuters report came just months after Kennedy testified to Congress in closed session about damage from the anti-secrecy group's activities.

"I never said that," Kennedy replied on Monday, his tone growing combative.

Manning's lawyer also played a November video of then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates saying at the Pentagon that "governments deal with the United States because it is in their interest. Not because they like us, not because they trust us and not because they believe we can keep secrets."

Coombs asked whether Kennedy had a "vested interest in making the Department of State look good." The implication was that Kennedy did not sign off on an August 2011 WikiLeaks damage assessment the department had drafted because it might have made previous public claims about widespread harm look hyperbolic.

Kennedy responded that he could not answer the question in a yes-or-no fashion.

"Of course I've been a foreign service officer for 40 years. Of course I am proud of the agency at which I work. I am proud of our agency's contribution to the national security," he said. "But I don't think that pride goes to the point of saying I will defend the State Department at any cost or defend the State Department when it's wrong."

Kennedy has been accused of doing just that in two high-profile matters: his response to the attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, when he signed off on altered talking points about the terrorist attack, and the still-developing allegations that he stopped an internal investigation into Howard Gutman, U.S. ambassador to Belgium.

The State Department's inspector general was reportedly looking into claims that Gutman had solicited sex from prostitutes and minors. Kennedy has strenuously denied claims that he halted that investigation. Gutman, who has not been charged with any crime, has said the allegations were "baseless."

On Monday, Coombs asked whether there was an ongoing investigation into Kennedy for allegedly stopping the Belgium inquiry.

"There is somebody who wrote a letter saying that I stopped an investigation, yes," Kennedy said.

But he added in response to a follow-up question, "I have no idea what the allegation says, it just says that I stopped the investigation -- and it happens to be entirely false."

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    As the <em>New York Times </em><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/world/guantanamo-files-lives-in-an-american-limbo.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1" target="_hplink">reports</a>, Mohammed Qahtani -- a Saudi believed to have been an intended participant in the Sept. 11 attacks -- was subject to coercive questioning and other abuses during his interrogation. The cables describe Qahtani as being leashed like a dog, sexually humiliated and forced to urinate on himself. His file says, "Although publicly released records allege detainee was subject to harsh interrogation techniques in the early stages of detention," his confessions "appear to be true and are corroborated in reporting from other sources."

  • Arbitrary Nature Of Prison System

    As <em>Le Monde</em> is <a href="http://www.worldcrunch.com/wikileaks-guantanamo-why-us-declared-iranian-catholic-drug-dealer-enemy-combatant" target="_hplink">reporting</a>, one "low-value" Iranian-Catholic detainee was kept in Guantanamo even after being deemed ready for release -- given his "cooperative nature" and in the interest of "possible financing relations" between Al Qaeda and traffickers. According to the cables, Abdul Majid Muhammed was deemed fit for release in 2002: "The detainee is not affiliated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban. He was involved in drug trafficking. It is unlikely that he represents a risk for the U.S. or its allies."

  • High-Profile Detainee

    An Al Jazeera journalist was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/25/sami-al-hajj-al-jazeera-j_n_853297.html" target="_hplink">reportedly </a>held at Guantanamo Bay for six years partially so he could be interrogated about the network Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese national and Al Jazeera cameraman, was captured in Pakistan in late 2001. Though he was never convicted or even tried of any terrorist ties, al-Hajj was held until 2008 because interrogators wanted to find out more about "the al-Jazeera news network's training programme, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan, including the network's acquisition of a video of UBL [Osama bin Laden] and a subsequent interview with UBL," <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/guantanamo-files/US9SU-000345DP" target="_hplink">according</a> to the cables.

  • Violent Threats Against Captors

    Some detainees are described as ruthlessly violent in the documents. As the <em>New York Times </em><a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/25/world/guantanamo-files-lives-in-an-american-limbo.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1" target="_hplink">reports</a>, one detainee said "he would like to tell his friends in Iraq to find the interrogator, slice him up, and make a shwarma (a type of sandwich) out of him, with the interrogator's head sticking out of the end of the shwarma." Another "threatened to kill a U.S. service member by chopping off his head and hands when he gets out," and informed a guard that "he will murder him and drink his blood for lunch. Detainee also stated he would fly planes into houses and prayed that President Bush would die."

  • New Details On Post-9/11 Al Qaeda Whereabouts

    As the<em> Washington Post</em> <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/wikileaks-discloses-new-details-on-whereabouts-of-al-qaeda-leaders-on-911/2011/04/24/AFvvzIeE_story_2.html" target="_hplink">reports</a>, the documents describe a major gathering of some of Al Qaeda's most senior operatives in early December 2001. They included Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks; Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged planner of the USS Cole attack; and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a key facilitator for bin Laden. After returning to Karachi, Mohammed "put together a training program for assassinations and kidnappings as well as pistol and computer training."

  • "Nuclear Hellstorm' Threat

    The leaked files<a href="http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5h9ouUwZB0vhDcEsGB8N2uVcvGFqQ?docId=CNG.e738123e4ccce6019851c695501ca633.9e1" target="_hplink"> indicate</a> Khalid Sheikh Mohammed told Guantanamo Bay interrogators that Al Qaeda had hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe which will unleash a "nuclear hellstorm" if Osama bin Laden is captured or killed. The terror group also planned to make a 9/11 style attack on London's Heathrow airport by crashing a hijacked airliner into one of the terminals, the files showed.

  • 'Impotence-Promoting' Drugs

    The <em>Washington Post</em><a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/wikileaks-discloses-new-details-on-whereabouts-of-al-qaeda-leaders-on-911/2011/04/24/AFvvzIeE_story_2.html" target="_hplink"> reports</a> Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the alleged planner of the USS Cole attack, "received injections to promote impotence" to avoid being distracted by women, and "recommended the injections to others so more time could be spent on the jihad."

  • Prisoner Details And Ranking System

    Gitmo detainees are <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/wikileaks-discloses-new-details-on-whereabouts-of-al-qaeda-leaders-on-911/2011/04/24/AFvvzIeE_story.html" target="_hplink">reportedly</a> assessed "high," "medium" or "low" in terms of their intelligence value, the threat they pose while in detention and the continued threat they might pose to the United States if released. As Reuters<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/25/guantanamo-files-detainees_n_853309.html" target="_hplink"> reports</a>, most of the 172 remaining prisoners have been rated as a "high risk" of posing a threat to the United States and its allies if released without adequate rehabilitation and supervision.

  • 'Terrorist Organizations'

    Gitmo authorities named Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency a "terrorist organization" along with Hamas and other international militant networks, according to leaked documents. As the Associated Press <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/25/pakistan-intelligence-terror-links-guantanamo_n_853274.html" target="_hplink">reports</a>, the ISI is part of a list that includes more than 60 international militant networks, as well as Iran's intelligence services, that are "terrorist" entities or associations and say detainees linked to them "may have provided support to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, or engaged in hostilities against U.S. and coalition forces."